STEVEN AND ERIC AND ME

Two points I need to make here at the outset: one, unlike my usual posts, there will be no attempts at levity or humor today. Two, there is no moral to this story, no “teaching moment” as it were.

Maybe the only message here is that of hope…as Mr. Shakespeare once said, “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope”.

As you may recall, for the last 2-1/2 years I’ve been working part-time for Florida’s largest grocery chain, Publix Supermarkets, as a Front Service Clerk, a bit of Publixese for, as comedian Bill Engvall puts it, Bobby the Bagger. And it was at my job week before last when the following occurred.

I was sitting in the break/conference room upstairs off the sales floor, answering some texts and perusing the Internet news on my cellphone, when my buddy and fellow Publix toiler Eric strolled in, lunch bag in hand and a smile on his face. Eric works as a stock clerk in the Grocery department, and although we don’t work directly together, our paths cross frequently and in doing so, we have found that affinity that so often obtains between two human beings that is at once indefinable yet very real. We fist-bump a lot, laugh often and like each other a great deal.

He is a good man.

He put his bag down on the table to my right, went and threw something in the microwave and then sat down next to me. We started talking about the local NFL representatives, the Tampa Bay Sucs, as I call them, and as we bemoaned the current status of the team (lousy) and their staring QB Jameis Winston (even lousier), another of our brother Publixians, Steven, a fellow bagger, walked in and joined us at the table.

The three of us sat in studied conversation, berating the Buccaneers and speculating on the fate of the team and other topics for about twenty minutes, and then I had to get back to work. It was a pleasant interlude in another mundane day of selling groceries to the denizens of New Port Richey FL.

My day was shattered however, when I got home and learned of the killings at the Tree of Hope Synagogue in Pittsburgh; like so many, I was sickened and dismayed at the story of the senseless carnage that some nutcase asshole named Robert Bowers had inflicted on that congregation and community. I know I am no different from most decent folks who experience the frustration and anger that these ongoing random attacks generate. It’s the feeling of helplessness that I think is most disheartening.

As I was making dinner a bit later that evening, my break-time conversation with my two co-workers popped in my mind, and it occurred to me, as it hadn’t before, what the three of us had done that day.

Steven is about 40 and developmentally challenged; I would say that he functions about at the level of a middle-school boy. He isn’t stupid, just slow, but he tries hard and uses the skill-set he has as best he can and he’s a good guy.

He’s also a Jew.

My buddy Eric is about 50, a married man who works two jobs to support his family.

He’s also African-American.

A Jew, and black man and an old white guy sat in a common room, eating and talking and laughing and enjoying each other, and I believe I can say with no fear of repudiation that neither of these men considered the dynamics of what we were doing that day any more than I did at the time. It was only later, upon reflection, that it occurred to me.

It didn’t occur to any of us because it didn’t seem significant. And yet it was.

Steven’s religion wasn’t an issue, nor his afflictions; the color of Eric’s skin wasn’t an issue; the fact that I’m an old fart wasn’t an issue. It was just three guys shooting the shit on a Saturday afternoon during their breaks at work.

I refuse to devolve into the old 60’s hippie nonsense of love, peace and the Utopian paradise we can all get to if we only come together, right now; the world, sadly, will always be filled, to one degree or another, with animals like Robert Bowers.

But in my distress and horror over the events of that sad day, I was heartened by the presence of my two friends, as I hope they were by mine.

There’s that word again…hope.

Desmond Tutu, a black man, once said that “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”.

It occurs to me that when three ordinary people, of completely diverse backgrounds, can sit together peacefully and see past race, religion, creed, nationality, gender or whatever, and give these differences no credence, then there is hope.

I will cling to that thought, and go on with my life.

Cap’n John

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